The planning system is very far from straightforward and sensible landowners seek legal advice before tackling it. The point was underlined by one case in which a farmer ended up with a part-built barn and at risk of enforcement action if he completed the development.
The farmer argued that the barn was reasonably necessary for his agricultural unit and proposed using it for storing potatoes and as a maternity unit for his 45 ewes during the winter months. He began construction work after applying to the local authority for prior approval for the development on the basis that it was automatically permitted by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (the GPDO).
In challenging the decision by way of judicial review, a neighbouring homeowner argued that the barn did not fall within the ambit of the GPDO because it was less than 400 metres from his and other homes, including a listed cottage, and was to be used for accommodating livestock. In quashing the council's decision, the High Court accepted that it had exceeded its powers by granting prior approval when the barn's status under the GPDO was in doubt.
The Court noted that the farmer had been within his rights to start building the barn after the council failed to reach a decision on his application for prior approval within 28 days. If he goes on to complete the development, however, he will be at risk of the council taking action to enforce its removal.
It remains open to him to seek planning consent for the development. Alternatively – on the assumption that his agricultural unit measures five hectares or more – he could still take advantage of the GPDO by abandoning his plans to use the barn for accommodating livestock and by moving it so that it is more than 400 metres away from his neighbour's home and other dwellings.